#8 – The Comet Knight

The horizon glowed gold in the north, and blue in the east. Tendrils of smoke climbed like static hairs from hundreds of fires. From the burly arm of an ancient tree, the knight perched and watched. His visor magnified the wooden town, which nestled in a close, cozy fashion behind a  barbed palisade. He had taken a secretive approach, expecting hidden scouts similar to his last encounter with civilization. The mountain he had chosen to climb was untouched by the rampant logging that scarred the adjacent lands. He had taken soil to his armor to mask the sheen, and was very conscientious of where he landed his boots, lest snapping sticks betray his presence. From his vantage, he could see past the walls, and make discerning judgements about the buildings. The largest was a stable, fit for an army. Small, identical huts were splattered through the town, and served as entrances to an underground network. The vast number of people entering and exiting led to that conclusion. It was impossible to judge the population from such a superficial scene, but the knight’s assumptions placed it in the early thousands. It seemed odd that the place was so alive this early. Armed men were leaving homes, and emerging from the sheds, converging on a central building. The knight scanned as many as he could, but the soldier with the breast plate wasn’t in attendance.
The central building was squared and tall, with decorative carvings along it’s exterior. It’s tiered roof, had concentric balconies climbing high above the walls. It served as the town’s only watch tower. Along the second highest level, four men, dressed in rich furs, came around from the other side and looked down to the amassing force. Three men kept looking towards the balding fourth, each one talking in turn. The knight’s visor enhanced the scene, and he took notice of something strange. Their mouths moved in his own fashion. He could read a few of his own words on their lips. They held the air of authority, like the silhouette at the ruins. They might also know more of these other fallen knights. He would have to take a few of them alive. His studied their faces, trying to memorize the men, so that he wouldn’t inadvertently silence them in the battle.
He descended from the branch and began taking staggered jumps down the mountain side when he heard a great commotion. He stopped and pressed his back against a wide trunk. They didn’t see me. They couldn’t have heard me. Calls and shouts came before a roar of a horn and the rumble of wood. The knight peaked his head around the wood, and saw the gate opening to release a battalion of mounted riders. The force formed outside the gates into three wedges. Leading the farthest of the three companies rode a soldier carrying two spears. Once all the men found their place in the formations, they trotted off, out of sight. This is your opportunity.
The knight snuck down to the valley floor, checked for witnesses, and sprinted across the barren land to the palisade. His fingers pressed into the gaps between the timber, twisted, and wrenched free chunks of wood. His gauntlets shredded a hole in the base of the wall, and he forced himself through. He had mapped the layout, and went directly to the central building. No one was left on the surface, the town was desolate, although no one could have stopped him if he was seen. The building was within reach. He flew through the air and crashed into the soft side, his feet and hands digging into the exterior, leaving his own marks upon the carvings. He was making noise now. The crunch of his armor biting into the wood felt good to his old blood. He climbed up to the first balcony, broke the railings aside with a swipe of his fist, and scaled to the second. He heard the guards at the top speak with panic. Their voices came towards him, but the pressure only quickened his ascent. He had seen the four men on the fifth landing, and that was where he stopped. He circled to the far side, and found the entrance they had used. He dropped his shoulder into the left side, even with the handle, and burst inside.
The four men were standing with blades in hand, and shields on arm. Their scowls turned to confusion at the sight of the knight. The youngest of them raised his weapon, but looked doubtful at what to do with it. The man with the braided beard, stepped aside to put his back to the wall. The third man dropped his sword before him and fell to one knee, directing his gaze to the floor. The bald man, sheathed his weapon, and squinted suspiciously.
The knight turned to the young one, who then turned to his companions, and followed their example.
“So it’s true.” The bald one said as he sat himself at a engraved wooden table. “The ghost has come for us.”
The man on his knees spoke without raising his head. “My lord, forgive our soldiers, they knew not who you were.”
The bearded man stepped forward, held the sharp end of his blade, and offered the knight the handle. His eyes danced about the dirty armor in astonishment. “Our lives are yours. You have been greatly missed.” When the knight took the sword in hand, the bearded man seated himself.
What were they expecting from him? They called him ‘lord’, and paid him respect. He wasn’t their king, but he must have looked the part. The young man was still standing, his mouth was a petrified gap. The knight waved his free hand to the table, and the young man backed into his chair without taking his glare away. The bald man shifted in his seat, waiting for something. The knight heard the guards above bellowing warnings, and the bearded man roared a dismissal in a strange tongue. The room was his, and as long as they thought him to be a long dead king, he had nothing to fear. He wanted to speak to them, but that meant lifting his visor, and when he did that, they would see his different face. So the knight circled around the room, first collecting the sword on the ground, then holding his hand for the young one’s and by the time he reached the bald man, his was already offered. He took the four blades and drove each one into the table, embedding them deep in the wood. When all the arms were staked he raised his visor.
The outrage was immediate, and a rabble of confused words passed between the men.
“How dare you wear his armor!” The bearded man rose to his feet and spat at the knight’s boots.
The young man clued in to the change, snatched a dagger from his boot and lunged at the knight’s face. His arm hung limp after it was crushed at the elbow, and the boy stayed still on the floor frozen to the stop where he was thrown.
The bald man cocked an eyebrow and examined him. “How do you wear the armor?”
The knight looked to the one who knelt, expecting some advance, but the man just stared at him in awe.
“This is my armor. No other man can wear it, and I can wear no others. I’ll answer no more of your questions, and only ask my own.”
The bald man looked to the whimpering boy on the ground, who clutched his mangled arm, and tried to stop the blood from seeping through the gaps between his fingers. He brought a dignified face up to the intruder and held out open palms. “It seems we have little choice here…”

 

Chapter 9

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